On Monday, news broke that Catholic leaders might be warming up to homosexual church members. Rather than use the language of disorder and sin, the Synod of Bishops on the family's midterm report said that "homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community."
To the Human Rights Campaign, it was a "seismic shift." To Vatican journalist John Thavis, an "earthquake." But to many others, the statement was merely a talking point for this week's synod meetings, meant to set the tone of the conversation than to anticipate earth-shattering doctrinal adjustments.
As Elizabeth Dias wrote for Time, the "Relatio post disceptationem" or "Report after debate," was understandably confusing for readers outside of the inner circle of the Catholic Church. Although it should be understood as more of a lengthy collection of meeting minutes than a press release, many articles treated the document like a new decree with the power to alter traditional Catholic practice.
"For a church that has historically linked the word 'homosexual' with the word 'sin,' the idea of welcoming gays in any capacity can appear to be a significant move," wrote Dias. "But before rushing to conclusions, everyone, on all sides, should calm down."
Dias' advice went unheeded by many, as social media sites and other online blogs witnessed a collection of intense reactions.
"For the LGBT Catholics in the United States and around the world, this new document is a light in the darkness — a dramatic new tone from a church hierarchy that has long denied the very existence of committed and loving gay and lesbian partnerships," wrote Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin.
Conservative Catholic groups also appeared to overreact to Monday's statement.
Voice of the Family reported feeling "betrayed" by the statement. Its coordinator, Maria Madise, told the Associated Press that she was concerned about the message the synod has sent to Catholic families.
"Will … parents now have to tell their children that the Vatican teaches that there are positive and constructive aspects to these mortal sins? This approach destroys grace in souls," she said.
David Gibson rounded up several other responses for Religion News Service, noting that Catholic conservatives are demanding further clarification from the Vatican.
"While the document … purports to report only the discussion which took place among the Synod Fathers, it, in fact, advances positions which many Synod Fathers do not accept and, I would say, as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept," said Cardinal Raymond Burke to Catholic World Report, sharing his sense that it was inappropriate to release the report to the global media.
Although cited widely for his "earthquake" remark, Thavis actually found a middle ground, explaining that, while the relatio displayed surprising openness to many controversial topics, its ultimate impact is very much up in the air.
The main takeaway was that "Pope Francis' desire to adopt a more merciful pastoral approach on marriage and family issues" seemed to be taken seriously by members of the Synod of Bishops, Thavis said.
In addition to the statement about "gifts and qualities," the relatio addressed same-sex partnerships and children raised by gay parents. As Jesuit priest Thomas Reese explained in the National Catholic Reporter, the document reaffirms that these partnerships should not be "considered on the same footing" as traditional marriages, but uses notably conciliatory language.
Deseret News National previously reported on how the conference's discussions of homosexuality, marriage and cohabitation could impact more than just lay Catholics, but also the Christian world more generally.
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